The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities

Ten Ways To Transform Transportation — Part II

People are free to choose the way they get around.  But the context shapes their likely choices.  This is Part II of a three-part series suggesting high-leverage actions that would shift the context from one that makes getting into a car the default option to one where walking or cycling would be equally – and in some situations more – easy to do.  Because mass transit is such a huge topic, I will deal with it separately in a later series of posts.   The ideas discussed in Part II include: 4. EXPAND SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL and SAFE ROUTES FOR SENIORS PROGRAMS 5. REQUIRE LOCAL CITIZEN’S BIKE/PED ADVISORY COMMITTEES6. CHANGE REGIONAL & LOCAL DECISION-MAKING PROCESS7. ENCOURGE SMART GROWTH Ideas 1-3 are discussed in Part I and ideas 8-10 plus a list of the provisions of the new Bike Safety Bill in Part III.   However, this is my list of the top ten ways to transform transportation.   I’m sure readers have others.  Please comment and add your own. Continue reading

Ten Ways To Transform Transportation — Part I

People are free to choose the way they get around.  But the context shapes their likely choices.  This is Part I of a three-part series suggesting high-leverage actions that would shift the context from one that makes getting into a car the default option to one where walking or cycling would be equally – and in some situations more – easy to do.  Because mass transit is such a huge topic, I will deal with it separately in a later series of posts.   The ideas discussed in Part I are: 1. LOWER SPEED LIMITS2. DESIGN FOR ORDINARY SITUATIONS AND ORDINARY PEOPLE3. STRENGTHEN DRIVER TESTING and TRAINING Ideas 4-7 are discussed in Part II and ideas 8-10 plus a list of the provisions of the new Bike Safety Bill in Part III.   However, this is my list of the top ten ways to transform transportation.   I’m sure readers have others.  Please comment and add your own.     Continue reading

Time to Stop Behaving Badly on Bikes

I know that, in general, bicyclists behave no worse than anyone else.  I know that, ultimately, the current rage at cyclists who run red lights, weave around lanes, and endanger pedestrians is just a car culture temper tantrum, like an older child outraged at the pushy presence of a newly arrived younger sibling.  Still, when even my closest friends – not to mention my wife – start cursing at the arrogant, stupid, endangering nuts on two wheels, I’ve got to acknowledge that something else is also going on. To be clear where I’m coming from:  my first priority is increasing the number of bicyclists. Continue reading

The Magic Bullet of Road Design: Narrower Lane Widths

It isn’t often that a complex problem can be significantly solved by a single remedy.  But when it comes to finding ways to make car-dominated streets more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, narrowing the lane widths is a game-changer.  Critics worry about safety and capacity, but new research refutes these fears.  It is for good reason that traffic engineers tend to be conservative.  They understand that road design shapes driver behavior and bad design leads to confusion, accidents, and injuries – even deaths.  When an engineer signs off on a design, he (and occasionally she) is putting his professional future on the line, if not exposing himself to potential liability claims.  You avoid trouble by following proven established practice; being innovative or non-standard means increasing risk. Continue reading

If Bicycling Goes Mainstream, Does Bike Culture Just Go?

Most groups that believe they both stand for important values and suffer the scorn of mainstream society, create an in-group culture.  Bicyclists are no exception.  One component of bike culture is an activist orientation that has placed cyclists in the forefront of grass roots campaigns for road improvement starting with the “Good Roads” movement in the early 1900s.  It is possible that just as paved roads ended up setting the stage for an auto-centric culture, today’s push for more bike facilities may lead to the swamping of “bikey” culture by “ordinary” people.  But, so what if it does?  As long as America’s transportation infrastructure does little to accommodate the needs of bicyclists, as long as American culture treats cycling like a risky non-standard if not abnormal activity, then most of the people who bicycle will be risk takers — people who enjoy feeling a bit estranged from middle-of-the-road culture.  And, like any group that feels both self-righteous and snubbed, and that has sufficient resources to organize themselves, cyclists stick together.  It is not surprising that a “bike culture” has emerged.  In fact, cyclists relish their outsider status, partly because they believe they represent better values and lifestyle choices than the surrounding SUV-society. Continue reading

Privacy On The Street: Fighting the Wrong Enemy

Why haven’t Massachusetts cities installed traffic light violation cameras, like New York and many other cities, that capture the license plate number of a vehicle running a red light and automatically send a traffic ticket?   Traffic-light violation cameras significantly reduce intersection violations and pedestrian injuries.  Critics cite possible privacy violations and the possibility that the vehicle owner may not be the driver breaking the law.  But neither argument has merit.  Just as a landlord can be held responsible for the public nuisance created by his tenants, a car owner is responsible for the behavior of anyone to whom she willingly lends her vehicle.  And breaking the law automatically cancels a person’s privacy rights.  When it comes to privacy, we’ve got it backwards.  Perhaps the intangible nature of digital information has misled our instincts and reversed our judgment, so that in matters concerning privacy we denounce things that are harmless while allowing things that can cause real harm.  Traffic-light violation cameras are not an invasion of privacy; giving business firms access to our registry database information is. Continue reading

Broken Windows and Broken Streets – Livable Streets as a Strategy to Reduce Crime and Support Local Business

Police talk about the “broken window syndrome” when visible neglect creates a feeling that anti-social behavior is acceptable.  But maybe there is also a “broken street syndrome” when the noise, smell, and danger of speeding cars and unfriendly public spaces scares people away and makes our neighborhoods ripe for decay.  What if intersections were redesigned so that it wasn’t so scary to cross the street?  What if trees were planted down both sides of the well-lit block?  What if commuters were no longer able to rush through the neighborhood?  What if cars were slowed to 20 mph, but traffic lights were timed so that drivers could cover just as much ground in the same amount of time as before?  What if bike lanes were located on major streets so cyclists didn’t have to ride on the sidewalk or in the middle of traffic?  Isn’t it likely that more people would spend time outdoors, providing what Jane Jacobs described as “eyes on the street”?  As Ms. Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, “A well-used street is apt to be a safe street.  A deserted street is apt to be unsafe.” Continue reading

Why Health Care Reform Should Be a Transportation Issue (and visa versa)

American medicine is only peripherally about health; it is primarily about treating disease.   It is a sickness treatment system.  Even so-called preventive medicine is really about screening and early treatment.  What we need is pre-disease prevention:  ways to create a lived environment that directly and through its impact on behavior significantly increases wellbeing and reduces the risk of getting sick in the first place.  This is where Transportation comes in.  Public Health has traditionally focused on wellness, championing societal measures that that improve living conditions for large populations, or make it easier for individuals to make healthy choices within their everyday life.  Clean water, effective sewerage, tobacco taxes and anti-smoking campaigns, eliminating trans fats and other food toxins, requiring seat belts, reducing neighborhood and domestic violence, gun control, vaccination campaigns – these can all be considered public health measures that work by improving the environment, providing services, or shaping the market. Continue reading

Quick Quotes — Land Use & Livability

“’Sometimes we have to use cars, but that doesn’t mean they have to dominate our lives.  Instead it should be dominated by human interactions…the level of car us in New York City is so inconsistent with what we want out of our city,’  whether in terms of health, quality of public life, or air quality.” Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives in Pedaling Revolution, by Jeff Mapes Continue reading

Transforming Transportation: Four Challenges Facing Boston (and most other cities)

Mayor Menino, like politicians around the country, has been talking about the need to create a more energy-efficient, safe, health-promoting, and community-friendly transportation system that creates less noise, has lower costs, and releases fewer green-house gasses.  He has begun a whole list of initiatives, from painting bike lanes to developing “complete streets” policies.  But going from vision to reality on a systemic, long-term, city-wide basis will not be easy.  There are at least four major challenges facing whoever takes over city hall. Continue reading